Durban - Three people, who ran what they thought was a foolproof enterprise using dead bodies to get insurance payouts in Kwazulu-Natal, have incurred multiple convictions, including murder.
The trio were on Wednesday charged with killing people, stealing identity documents, planting information on their corpses and then claiming from life insurance companies.
Police linked them to eight bodies of people who had been murdered or had died in car accidents; notes were found on each corpse that deliberately led police to the trio, who had then claimed they were relatives so they could claim hundreds of thousands of rands in life insurance and funeral benefits.
The marathon five-year trial drew to a close when Durban High Court Judge Fikile Mokgohloa found Maryanne Dimba, Linda Brenda Mdluli and Sibusiso Buthelezi guilty for their involvement in a complex two-year scam in which they used lost or stolen IDs to claim insurance policies.
The trio, who had faced eight counts of murder (the alternative was conspiracy to commit murder), for allegedly killing unidentified people before passing them off as the insured, were each convicted on only one count of murder.
Bonginkosi Vincent Shabalala was found on October 16, 2007 in a cane field in Verulam. A note planted on his corpse with one of the accused’s contact details proved to be the catalyst in the convictions.
The court found there was not enough evidence to convict them on the other seven murder counts.
Most of the policy holders were found murdered - in a similar fashion - and others were victims of car accidents who were awaiting identification at mortuaries.
Each deceased had funeral cover or life insurance, and once the body was falsely identified - in most cases by one of the accused using stolen IDs - the claim was speedily submitted to the relevant insurance company. In all cases, the policies were opened about three months before their deaths.
The court sifted through 41 lever arch files of documents and the evidence of 271 witnesses before judgment commenced eight days ago.
Standing up one by one as Mokgohloa delivered her verdict, all three appeared unfazed.
Dimba, the mastermind, was convicted on one count of managing the operations and activities of the enterprise: she initiated the policies, acquired the bodies and submitted the claims.
Relying on cellphone evidence, which eventually sunk the defence case, the several ID books found in her possession at the time of her arrest, and Buthelezi’s statement that he and Mdluli had acted on Dimba’s instruction, Mokgohloa found that Dimba played a prominent role.
Cellphone experts had testified that records placed the trio in the vicinity of all the murders when they were committed. Moreover, cellphone numbers provided by them on claim forms were also linked to them. In most claims, Dimba had provided her personal cellphone number to insurance companies - she later conceded in court the number was hers.
Dimba was convicted on 28 counts of fraud, Mdluli on nine counts and Buthelezi, 11. Mdluli and Buthelezi were also convicted on two counts of racketeering and on one count each for theft.
Dimba was also convicted on seven counts of conspiracy to commit murder, after the court found that the inference that could be drawn was that the trio conspired with others to commit murder.
Mdluli and Buthelezi were each also found guilty on one count of conspiracy to commit murder. They were acquitted on both counts of acquiring, using or supplying the body of a deceased - the charge for which Dimba was convicted.
The NPA said on Wednesday night the conviction by a KZN court could be unprecedented.
“According to our knowledge, this is the first racketeering and murder conviction in the province. I don’t know of others,” said the NPA’s provincial spokeswoman, Natasha Ramkisson.
She said there was a prevalence of similar matters where people were milking insurance companies of vast sums of money.
The judgment, Ramkisson said, should serve both as a warning and deterrent to like-minded people.
“People should note that, irrespective of the complexity of the operations, the authorities are uncovering them and bringing them to justice,” she said.